ACX University and Audiobooks, with Hannah Wall and Kate Tilton [Interview]

by | Sep 29, 2017

Right now ACX, the audiobook marketplace that’s part of Amazon’s Audible division, is running their annual ACX University. This is a great opportunity for authors and publishers to learn the ins and outs of working with ACX and how to maximize your audiobook production as well as learning how to market audiobooks.

This is the fastest-growing format in book publishing right now, far outstripping growth in ebook and print book markets. That’s a good reason to find out how to create audiobooks for yourself.

In today’s interview I talk to Hannah Wall from ACX and Kate Tilton, who helps authors with their marketing and publishing tasks. It runs 33:55 and we covered a lot of territory. A complete transcript is below.

 

Audio File of Interview


 

Transcript

Joel: Hello! This is Joel Friedlander from TheBookDesigner.com and I have a question for you. Most everybody who’s listening to this is an author. Have you produced audiobooks of your books? Maybe you’ve done eBooks, print books, but have you ever done an audiobook?

That’s what we’re talking about today. Right now, there’s a great educational event going on called “ACX University.” To talk about that, to talk about audiobooks in general, I’ve got two great guests with me.

Hannah Wall, who actually works for ACX. She’s Senior Manager of Marketing and Communication. Hannah started her career in 2007 with CreateSpace, a company that many of you are quite familiar with. She has shepherded indie authors through the whole book publishing process. Currently, Hannah connects authors with audiobook producers. So, you don’t have to be your own audiobook producer and that will allow you to create amazing listening experiences for your readers. Hannah is also an avid reader and listener of all genres that you could most frequently find her curled up with a good memoir.

I also have with me an old friend, Kate Tilton. We’ve been working together for years. Kate is the founder of Kate Tilton’s Author Services where she helps authors of all kinds upscale their business and connects with their readers. If you want to know a little bit more about Kate, she loves cats. She loves drinking tea. She’s kind of geeky. You can find her over at KateTilton.com.

 
 
Welcome Hannah and Kate. Just before we roll into this, Hannah, I just wanted to ask you if you would clear up for people because I get this question all the time. They know Audible because they got audible on their phone or their computer with their audiobooks in it, and then there’s ACX. What is the relationship between these two entities just so everybody can have it clear in their mind?

Hannah: Absolutely! Well, thank you for having me, Joel. ACX is a sub-company of Audible. Audible is our parent company.

In 2011, Audible was looking at the audiobook landscape going, “There aren’t enough audiobooks,” and seeing how many authors wanted to create audiobook editions of their work, but maybe they didn’t have the resources, the knowhow or the access to the people who actually produce audiobooks – narrators, audiobook producers, and audiobook studios. ACX was created as a solution to directly connect those parties together, to connect authors with actors and studios to start meeting that demand.

Since 2011, we’ve created about 95,000 audiobooks that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.

Joel: That is phenomenal! Okay, so, that’s great. I love Audible because I also love listening to audiobooks. A lot of authors—I’ve been talking and writing about audiobooks particularly in the last year because while—they see in the beginning is that eBook sales may be flattening. Print book sales seem to be fairly steady. The only place where there’s really explosive growth right now is in audiobooks, so publishers and authors who publish their own books really should be thinking about audiobooks.

Kate, maybe you could tell us something about the authors you work with and how they manage dealing with all these different formats and whether they’re having success doing it.

Kate: Audiobooks is huge. My authors who do do it—actually, I had a cool conversation the other day with one of my clients. He did a Bookbub promotion for his regular eBooks, a box set of his eBooks. He was like “And my audiobook sales skyrocketed that day. I sold over 100 audiobooks,” and that’s huge. Audiobooks sell at a higher price point, so the income is incredible.

For authors that do pursue audio and do it correctly, it is: 1. a whole other income stream. And then, 2. It can be a very lucrative revenue stream. I’m a big fan of audiobooks and any author who tells me they’re considering doing audiobooks, I am there.

Joel: It seems like we can create eBooks and print books fairly easily these days. For instance, with the templates I sell over at Book Design Templates. If you could create eBooks and print books from the same file, there’s very little overhead producing that other format.

Making the leap into audiobooks, that’s a whole different thing. I might be a really skilled writer and be able to lay out my book in Word because I’ve been using it for years, but how do authors make the leap into actually becoming audiobook producers? There’s a couple of ways to do it, right? You can either hire somebody or do it yourself. What is the way that most indie authors are getting into this audiobook format?

Kate: I think ACX is still the lead when it comes to indie authors producing their own audiobook because of ACX, you have the two options. You have the royalty share or you have the “pay per finished hour” option.

I think why indie authors particularly love ACX is because it gives them more control over the process. I have some authors who are very, very involved in their audiobook production. They get to pick the narrator. They go through what we call “audiobook pick up” where we match up what’s been recorded with the actual text of the book, so that the book can be Whispersynched. Others who don’t care about that, they just trust their narrator. They pick one and go for it.

There really are just a lot of options that are there. I think it’s more we don’t talk about it as much, but once you start digging into the audiobook world, there are a lot of resources out there. It amazes me when I hear people that say, “Hey, audiobooks are so hard to market.” I’m like, “What do you mean they’re hard to market? You have all these channels.” I think it just takes some thought.

Hannah: Kate, you sucked the word right out of my mouth. What it comes down to is really starting with a great product. What ACX hopes to do and what ACX University as an educational program hopes to do is to take away some of the fears that authors may have about creating audiobooks.

It’s definitely not as scary as it sounds, but creating a great product right from the start is something you want to get right the first time. You don’t want to go to market with a little less than perfect product. Think about how much time you as an author spend on selecting your cover art, selecting your copy editor, sitting at marketing promotions. All those things take time and energy.

Your audiobook is exactly the same. It’s something that should be done deliberately and thoughtfully. Hopefully, if you watch ACX University, you’ll feel a little more confidence in that process.

Joel: That’s terrific. In a minute, I’m going to ask you Hannah for more information on ACX University and how people can participate because it’s still going on for another two weeks from the date that we’re talking.

I’m curious though, Hannah. You see the indie authors coming in to ACX. Some of them are “do-it-yourselfers.” Some of them, as Kate was implying, that there are different royalty structures. There are different ways you deliver your product to ACX. Can you just talk about that a little bit? I’d really be interested to know how it breaks out, how many people are going with using your producers and how many people are uploading their own props.

Hannah: I will say the majority of people are finding a narration partner on ACX. That is definitely the most popular option. We have over 50,000 voices to choose from currently. If you can’t find your voice in one of those 50,000, I will personally help you find it because I know that the perfect voice for your audiobook is out there.

Creating a great audiobook really comes down to four basic decisions, and these are whether use ACX or not. The first thing I would ask you think about is “What kind of talent do you want to perform your book?”

When you think about your audiobook, you should be thinking about the movie in your mind because audiobooks are on par with film and television entertainment. It’s entertainment. Someone’s giving a performance of your work. Think about who you might cast. Is your main character a Jennifer Lawrence or a Robert De Niro?

Think about the person who is performing your book, and then when you go to look for a voice actor on or off ACX, think about who sounds like that celebrity talent in your mind. I think it can help find a voice that way.

The next thing that I would say—oh go ahead.

Joel: Relating to that 50,000 voices–now, is it 50,000 different people that you can hire? Is that what you’re saying?

Hannah: Yes, but ACX is a one-stop shop. When you’re working with ACX, you’re selecting one person and that one person does the end to end production for your book. Whether that person does the narration and engineering of your audio him or herself, they might do that; but I contract with one person and that one person delivers back to me a retail quality audiobook that can go available for sale. I’m working just as one person.

We have some great tools on ACX’s site to help you winnow down those voices down to the perfect one. A big part of the ACX process is the audition stage. Once you post your book on ACX, you can choose 2-3 pages of your manuscript. Not just the first 2-3 pages. Find the meatiest, most acting part of your book and choose those as your audition script, and then producers, narrators and actors will come find your book based on how you describe your book.

They’ll record an audition of your words, which I think is so great because you can hear not just a generic audition or a generic sample from maybe an actor’s reel. You can hear them performing your words and then you can use that audition process to make that final selection.

Joel: I think the idea of having a single point of contact is really brilliant because this is so technical. Not that it’s more technical than creating print books, which are also kind of technical to be honest; but having one person really makes it a lot easier for the author and not having to learn every part of the process and deal with lots of different vendors to get a product made. I think that’s really a brilliant idea. I’m sure that your authors who use this service are very happy about that.

But there are still people who are doing it themselves, right? I mean, they upload—you can choose that. There are people around who like to do that themselves. We have a lot of “do it yourselfers”…

Hannah: Definitely…

Joel: And I’ve been in that market, trust me, because I love those people and they are producing some amazing stuff in their own way.

I was really also relating to what you were saying, Hannah, about performing in the different types of voice actors doing a performance and I was attracted by Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro. I kind of see them somehow in my memoir. That’s where I wanted Robert De Niro to play me.

Hannah: Awesome.

Joel: I don’t know if that’s going to happen. That leads me to another question. I love the Audible TV ads that have been running the last few months because they really show how audio can transport you into a completely different world and how amazing, refreshing and vibrant that is. I love that, but that’s all about fiction–creating worlds.

I’m a nonfiction writer. Is there any reason that I should—now, obviously, I’m not going to do a “how to” book “press this button then press that button” that wouldn’t work on audio, but what about general nonfiction? I’m not talking about memoirs or travel writing, which really is more world setting. Just general nonfiction. Do you find a lot of people using audiobooks for that?

Hannah: Absolutely. Business and self-help books are some of the bestsellers on Audible. You’d be surprised how many people are using their commuting time to improve themselves by listening to nonfiction content. It’s not just memoirs.

Nonfiction books are entertainment in just a different way than fiction books are. I prefer listening to fiction, but nonfiction audiobooks are a great way to learn on the go and make the most of your time. I think you see a lot of folks who have big commute who are also taking advantage of that space.

I would say if you’re a nonfiction author who’s considering making an audiobook edition whether you record it yourself or whether you have an actor act as you and perform as you for your nonfiction book, it is a huge opportunity. There are huge opportunities to come into the nonfiction space on Audible right now.

Kate: I second that.

Joel: Are nonfiction authors more likely to want to record the book themselves?

Hannah: You know, I don’t think it’s a matter of whether they want to or not. I think what it comes down to is whether they are able. As an author, if you’re thinking about narrating your audiobook, stamina is the watchword. Really, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Just for context, when a professional audiobook narrator is recording your audiobook, they spend two hours just doing the performance of your audiobook. Then there’s an additional three hours of engineering time that goes into making sure each word is perfect; that there aren’t any extraneous noises. Even a professional will take five hours to produce one finished hour of audio that you listen to in your headphone.

If you’re going to narrate yourself, go into it with the expectation that this is going to take a lot of work and a long time. Even if you go to a recording studio and have someone record you, you’re going to make mistakes with your reading. You’re going to want to stop and start over. You’re going to need a drink of water. You’ll find that your voice as an untrained actor is probably only good for three or four hours before you run out of voice.

As you’re thinking about recording yourself, do think about “Do I have the stamina for this? What resources are available to me to help me record well and efficiently?” because efficiency, when it comes to audiobook recording is really what’s going to be the difference between a very expensive project and a more affordable project. It can absolutely be done. It can be done in your home.

One of the things that we teach at ACX University, which is our educational web series, will show you what tools, what equipment you need to record yourself, how to treat your room so you can do it yourself. It absolutely can be done.

If you’re worried about it, I would say try this exercise. Grab any book off your shelf. Go into your closet. Close the door. Make sure there are no kids knocking, no dogs barking. Read aloud for an hour and then see how you feel about it. You’ll never know what’s inside of that closet door.

Joel: I’m tired just thinking about it.

Hannah: That’s one of the advantages of having a professional partner brings to audiobook production. They are very experienced with that. They have vocal stamina. They also got the skills and training to be able to speak at length and well and efficiently.

Joel: Very interesting. Kate, I know a lot of your authors are fiction authors. Do you have any nonfiction authors who are doing audiobooks?

Kate: I do. I was going to say I totally second what Hannah was saying because I do have authors that have—I have one author that has fiction audiobooks and nonfiction audiobooks.

Right now, the nonfiction audiobooks actually sell better. That makes sense to me as a listener. I listen to both, especially when I’m in the car. I love fiction, jumping into a world, but I also love to read nonfiction, self-improvement stuff, anything about mindset or different ideas about marketing.

It’s great if I can pop that in when I’m driving long distance and be able to listen to that. It’s another reason why I think podcasts are so popular right now.

Joel: Everybody that I’ve talked to predicts they’re going to get a whole lot more popular since more and more cars are rolling out with internet capability and the ability to listen to podcasts instead of whatever radio station you just happen to be able to get near you. That’s going to revolutionize both car travel and podcasting I think, so it’s pretty exciting.

I did want to spend a few minutes talking about marketing because I like the production model; the whole thing with the producer and then taking charge of the project, collaborating with the author and ending up with a finished product. It’s actually very similar to a model we use on the print book side or eBook side where we have book shepherds or book designers who will take over the project, hire any subcontractors that are needed and deliver a finished product in collaboration with the authors.

I think people are kind of familiar with that model and it works really well, but that only takes us up to having a finished product. As we all know, anybody who has tried to sell a book knows that’s not the hard part. That’s actually kind of fun. It’s like arts and crafts almost.

Writing the book is hard. Selling the book is hard. Producing the book is not that hard. It’s a onetime thing. What is there that’s unique about marketing audiobooks? I will leave that up to either of you.

Kate: I can jump in there because I’ve been doing a lot of research on this lately. I’ve always loved marketing. I’ve always loved audiobooks, so it’s natural that I do a lot of thinking about it.

To me, it’s funny because just the other day, someone commented about “It’s just hard to market audiobooks.” I was just like “No, it’s not.” The wonderful thing about audiobooks is you have so many of the channels you use for your print books and eBooks also available for you for your audiobook.

It’s like if you put links to your books in your back matter, link your audiobook. If you put links to your books on your website—which you should be doing—link your audiobook. If you’re requesting reviews for your books, request your audiobooks as well. There are even particular websites that only accept audiobooks for review. Same thing with awards. We enter our print books or eBooks into awards. There are awards that are only for audiobooks.

There are so many channels that you can use that you would use for your print books and eBooks. Plus, you have the additional audiobook only channel that you can use.

Joel: The whole thing about reviewers is kind of interesting, Kate, because most book reviewers that I read don’t write reviews of audiobooks. Are there specialist reviewers– people that that’s just what they do? If so, how would I find out who those people are and how to reach them?

Kate: Yes, there are people that will only review audiobooks. Honestly, you can even just Google “audiobook reviewers” and people will pop up. I wrote an article on my website. It was like “25 plus marketing ideas for audiobooks.” I’ll give you the links. You can put it on the show note. I’m like “Here are a couple of options to start with.”

One is AudioBookReviewer.com. They only review audiobooks. There are even certain magazines like “AudioFile Magazine.” They only review audiobooks. You have channels like that that will do reviews. You also have certain advertising networks that focus on audiobooks. I found that there are other book bloggers who will do reviews; who will review print books, but they also review audiobooks. Some of them will say “I prefer audiobooks.”

I know that personally, back in the day when I used to do book reviews, I liked audiobooks better because I was travelling back and forth to college. That’s a 2-hour ride that I’m doing 3 times a week. That’s 6 hours. I’d much rather listen to an audiobook than try to get a print book and try to find the time for reading in between all my schoolwork. When I’m sitting in the car, that’s just dead time. That’s perfect time for any kind of audio content.

I think this is how things are changing in our society. I think we are being more selective of what we want to listen to, so instead of just popping on the radio and listening to all those ads, we prefer to put a podcast on or put an audiobook on. We get to choose what we’re listening to. We don’t have those interruptions anymore.

Joel: How about you, Hannah? The authors that you’ve worked with at ACX, what do you see people doing that’s kind of unique marketing-wise that you wouldn’t do, let’s say for a print book or an eBook? How are they reaching their listeners?

Hannah: I think with audiobooks, you have a very unique opportunity to present audio as your marketing tool. Your audiobook can be your marketing tool. When you work with ACX, you can cut samples of your audiobook and then through Audible—Audible has a wonderful tool called “clip” that lets you create short audio clips of your audiobook.

That is actually, in my opinion, one of the best marketing tools that you’ve got. It shows them the product. Create a great product first, but then shows them the product. There are plenty of social media services that support the inclusion of audio. It’s very easy to put together mini videos if you were to combine your cover art and audio clips and use those on Facebook which supports video, on Instagram which supports video. Twitter is getting very “friendly” for that.

Using samples of your audio, finding really compelling sections of your audiobook and cutting it off right when the listener is going to want to hear more. Lead it up to the big tease and then cut it off. Use your audiobook as your marketing tool for your audiobook. That sounds silly, but audiobooks are a very digital first product. You’re going to see people who hear a sample and then that’s going to be what compels them to purchase your audiobook.

Joel: I think that’s fascinating because it seems to me what you’re talking about is kind of an audiobook trailer, yes?

Hannah: Yes, absolutely. They’re very, very simple to put together. Like I said, as long as you’ve got your cover art and you’ve got your sample from your narrator, match those two together in Quick Time, you’ve got a trailer!

Joel: Right. What I want to be able to do is to propagate that through maybe social media channels along with a buy button.

Hannah: Absolutely!

Joel: I can do that, right? I’ve got a book that is editing right now. I think of all the books that I published, it probably would be most suitable to being an audiobook because it’s not really about publishing. I’d love to be able to propagate that through my social media channels because they have fairly good reach and gives people a sample with a buy button. The buy button has to be there because that’s the moment that which a listener is going to be most ready and intrigued to buy it.

I don’t have any cliff hangers, unfortunately, but still a sample with a buy button sounds to me like a really good combination. I could email that out to my email list too.

Hannah: I would even say adding a review. Maybe you have a cover, a review of the audiobook and that audio together. Those things combined are even more powerful. I think one of the reasons I hear from authors that they feel audiobook marketing is so challenging is they aren’t necessarily treating the audiobook with the same importance that the eBook and a print book get because there’s less familiarity with the medium perhaps.

If you’re afraid of audiobooks, go out and listen to some audiobooks, especially in your genre. Let’s figure out what a good audiobook in your category sounds like, and then look at what that author is doing to promote their audiobook.

When you treat the audiobook as equal to the eBook and the print book—you know, you’re getting those release dates as close together as you can, or you’re making sure you always include that buy button on the page—those are things that you can do.

Give audiobooks a tab on your website and put SoundCloud samples there, or put that Audible buy button right next to the buy buttons for all your other distribution channels because it is the same as your eBook and your print book. If your readers don’t know that that’s available as an option, of course, they’re not going to buy it.

Joel: That’s right. If you don’t know about it, you can’t buy it.

Hannah: Exactly.

Joel: That leads me to another question then after this, I’m going to ask you about ACX University. You were talking about lining up your publication dates. This actually concerns me because in book publishing, we hang a lot of our book launch off the publication date. Publication date is like the “do or die.” It’s everything. Do you think it’s important? Like if I have a print book and the audiobook that’s going to be, let’s say, a few weeks before it gets finished, should I hold my print book so they’re publishing on the same date? Does that make any difference?

Hannah: That’s a really personal choice, but I would say this: if you are spending marketing dollars to promote your eBook and your print book, why can’t those marketing dollars also work for your audiobook?

If you released it at a later date, you should do a big marketing push for the audiobook when it does come out. But that does mean that you’re going to spend more dollars to promote the audiobook at a separate time than maybe combining the print, eBook and audiobook all into the same launch. It may sound daunting, but it just takes a little bit more preparedness.

When it comes to audiobook production, you should plan on it taking anywhere from 6-12 weeks depending on the experience of the narrator that you select. Or if you’re doing your own narration, how much time you have to do your own narration. So, plan on that time.

As soon as you have a meritable draft ready and you are getting your cover art together, you’re getting your promotions together; hopefully, you’ve already had a conversation with a narrator. At that point, you send the manuscript out to be narrated. If you’re working with a professional, hopefully it’s getting done really, really quickly. I think that those things can go together.

If you slow down and take a little bit of time to plan, you can get those releases together. Get those marketing dollars to go over a little bit further right at the beginning than having to spend marketing dollars later when you have a new edition coming out.

Joel: I think that’s a really good point. Thank you for that, Hannah. Also, I think it’s really a good point that you have to know your audience. Obviously, if this is the first book you’ve published, you’re not going to know your audience as well as with the second or third book you publish.

I could see arguments on both sides. You do get better leverage if you publish all of them at the same time because you’re getting the most exposure. You’re doing the most marketing. You’re launching the book. You’ll catch up people in that launch who would rather have the audiobook, and if it’s available, they’ll buy it.

On the other hand, there may be occasions where you’d like to spread them out because it will catch. In effect, you need two launches. Now, maybe that’s just too exhausting because we’re already overwhelmed, but it does give you a second bite at the apple, if you know what I mean. I mean you could come back around and re-launch just for the audiobook and have a whole new set of events if you wanted to. That’s really interesting and something that everybody would have to think about and think about what would work best for their audience.

Hannah: It’s such a personal choice. I would say that if you’re working through your backlist, those books are already out so you’re going to have to do pushes for those. It might make a big fuss about your backlist title. If you have frontlist title—as you’re thinking about your frontlist titles, if you have your writing outline plan for 6, 9, 12 months ahead, go ahead and start working that audiobook in there. Set yourself a goal. There’s no reason you can’t try to do both.

Joel: Can you just let listeners know where they can find out more about ACX University because that’s what I said is going on right now? It will be going on when I release this recording; this interview. Some people are going to be interested in finding out more about that. How can they do that?

Hannah: They can go to acx.com/landing/acxu. ACX University, for those who aren’t in the know, is an educational web series that we host annually. We are so committed to making sure that you have a great experience producing audiobooks that we’ve created this educational series. It comes out once a year. The topics really focus on creating great audiobooks.

This year we have four classes that are for authors. There are four classes that are for producers. If you’re an author who’s looking to narrate and record your audiobook yourself, you’ll probably be interested in those as well.

We’re talking about working with a partner and what it’s like to give up that creative control. We have a class for beginners, about everything you need to know to get involved in audiobook production.

On Tuesday, September 26, which is coming up, we’ll be presenting “If you market, they will listen,” which is our marketing session. Kate is featured on this. She is a wonderful guest, so I hope you’ll tune in for more great marketing ideas.

On October 3, we have a session about how to get those critical audiobook reviews. We’re actually featuring Paul Stokes from AudioBookReviewer.com, which Kate mentioned, as well as Robin Whitten from AudioFile Magazine.

Joel: Very cool. Okay, great. You could find out about ACX University. Kate, if people wanted to learn more about your services, how could they contact you?

Kate: The best way is to go to KateTilton.com. You can find my author services, my upcoming online courses for authors, my email, social media–all that’s on the website.

Joel: I do want to mention that the die hard “do-it-yourself” people out there, we do have help for you also at my site, AuthorToolKits.com. We actually sell a comprehensive guide for recording your own audiobook. It’s called the “Audiobook Toolkit for Authors.”

There’s a lot of information there about how to use ACX and their distribution. This was done in collaboration with Becky Parker Geist who has been in the audiobook industry for 35 years, so she’s a real pro.

For people who really are committed to doing it yourself, go over to AuthorToolKits.com and check that out. It’s Audiobook Toolkit for Authors.

This has been really interesting. Both Hannah and Kate put the interest me in getting my own books in audio format because although I love audiobooks, I’ve never created one. I think 2017 is going to be the year.

Once again, thanks both to Hannah Wall from ACX and Kate Tilton of Kate Tilton’s Author Services. It’s been really great and looking at the show notes for all the links to everything that was mentioned here.

Once again, this is Joel Friedlander from TheBookDesigner.com, and I will see you see next time.

Links of Interest

tbd advanced publishing starter kit

2 Comments

  1. rosiespinka

    I am enjoying to read the post. This post helped me very much. It has a lot of knowledge.

    Reply
  2. Herbert Holeman

    Thanks for your interesting commentary on audio books. I’ve listened to audio books for years and find it a great experience. I’d like to learn more as an author.

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Episode 67 - Produce and Promote Your Own Audio Books With Kate Tilton - CKSyme Media Group - […] –Joel Friedlander interview with Kate and Hannah […]
  2. Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 10-05-2017 | The Author Chronicles - […] Audiobooks are hot right now. Joel Friedlander interviews Hannah Wall and Kate Tilton about ACX University and audiobooks. […]

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